This is the first of a series where I explore “out loud” some of the issues that trigger me and I wish to examine in more detail.
I believe that boundaries in our personal/professional lives are very important for the maintenance of well-being. My thoughts about this have emerged over the last couple of years and in response to understanding my burn out, stress and subsequent career derailment. Working at the university invited blurred boundaries around when one was at work and when not at work – reading emails at all times of the day and a top trump culture that encouraged working very long hours and being at the computer outside working hours. There were “prizes” for the saddest and weekend blurring was commonplace. I became caught up in this and found it increasingly difficult to not be engaged in work based interactions. I seemed to never be “off duty” and I now know this significantly contributed to my disenchantment and disillusionment and then my decision to leave the University. Going on to work for an organisation with even worse blurred boundaries was a tad ironic BUT it has taught me to be mindful of boundaries and not engage with professional conversations all the time – there has to be down time. For example I might notice something on social media on a Saturday evening BUT I do not expect that to be followed up with a request to do some work… It may be impulsive and not meant to bother me BUT it does. I really do have to look after myself and my well being in a very active and assertive way. Years of not valuing my own opinions and overlooking my own self care need to be changed and patterns of behaviour altered to derail the negativity and maintain my energy and ensure I stop feeling frustrated, write the book and keep the enjoyment in my job.
I believe boundaries are important and the ongoing examination of the purpose they serve is essential to ensure safe and effective working. Conversations about these issues come up all the time and my experience is that the unexamined issues are the ones that lead to discontent and troubles.
I have had a tough lesson this week about the flawed decisions I made when I was vulnerable and angry back in September 2015. Leaving full-time employment wasn’t an act of bravado or a realisation of a long held dream BUT a necessity. I was being bullied and a toxic environment was eroding my well-being. I left work for self employment and freelancing because I had to – I became unemployable and lacked self belief and direction.I have subsequently learnt that I am not very good at self-promotion and pushing a business to an unsuspecting world. I have not found the oomph!!! to forge a success out there and I look back at those early days and I realise I was fuelled by a delusion based on thinking that some folk would want me to thrive and establish contacts. I have an expectation that people are generous and kind and that I would be helped in developing a network and they’d help me to go forth and flourish – that hasn’t been my experience but I am learning from adversity that I can be better at bouncing back if I don’t let emotions define me but teach me patterns of behaviour etc.
I am looking forward now to working with new people and that my responses to challenges are now less long term in their impact. Thanks to noticing my emotional responses and not judging them I am bouncing back quicker and not beating myself up about mistakes and mishaps. I feel encouraged and energised and I am getting ready for new purpose and meaning. I have been hiding in the back of my cave for quite a while but I am nearly ready to come out and my need for activism is stirring – I now recognise how bad I was feeling and can now appreciate the distance travelled and just how much I have recovered.
I know I cannot be a passive observer of the world of health care and the varying degrees of suffering within it and I know I need to develop a project that helps folk through facilitating learning. I am gaining clarity about that and my focus is become clearer in relation to thresholds, liminal spaces and navigating the terrain. I am finding that writing regularly and reading more deeply is helping me work alongside my imposter syndrome and recognise the inhibition, the fear and the stumbles. Through kindness and curiosity I am finding a more sustainable approach and building my resilience and resourcefulness.
Ethel has a new hat
she wants everyone to notice.
Blending with the foliage
her hand of cards is
a winning streak.
New teeth on show
this isn’t the first time
she’s been in shot.
Anger accelerates hurt
Indignation smothers hope
Ostracise wounded souls
Yesterday I led a writing workshop and it was a fabulous space with all of us exploring our emotional selves and being compassionate about our responses. I loved the session and have been reflecting on what a different feeling it evoked in me and how when I am facilitating a session that I truly believe in I don’t feel anxious or a fraud. I may not know as much about literature and psychology as many around me but I do have lived experience of the positive effect that writing can bring to healing wounds caused by despair and despondency. I felt calm and composed yesterday and really noticed the lack of frenetic explaining that has often been a component of my personal development sessions in the past. It felt enabling and empowering and I came away feeling energised and enthusiastic. It felt a world away from the draining experiences of my life in education that I left nearly 3 years ago. We spent the day in a creative and nurturing space that resulted in ALL of us writing amazing poems and resourcing us with words, images and insights.
We enjoyed good food, good company and good writing – encountering ourselves and each other with respect, generosity and kindness. It’s a model I want to offer to busy professionals and harried care workers – we all deserve space to reflect and renew – I am absolutely convinced that it would make a huge difference to wellbeing in the workplace and exponentially improve the capability and capacity for people’s caring practice.
I am not sure how I take this forward but I know that yesterday I was “walking my why” – a phrase from Susan David’s book that really resonates for me and is making all the difference as I recover and recuperate my professional identity.
After reflecting on some recent adversity I am beginning to understand how I put myself in vulnerable positions and that I may not be doing myself any good by doing so. I actually now recognise that I respond very negatively to being treated like a child and defensive stances. I like people to take responsibility for any mistakes or mishaps and I find myself feeling much better if I do the same. Apologising for over reactions and getting beyond the blame culture that seems to be endemic in society at the moment. High stress situations seem to be contagious and I know that I cannot function effectively when in close proximity to defensive positions and high tension. Stress seems to be an overarching term that many people use to excuse bad behaviour and rushed communication. In many circumstances “stress” is too general a term and a deeper understanding and excavation of thoughts, feelings and emotions are needed.
I am reading Emotional Agility by Susan David at the moment and I suspect this might be a life changing read. I discovered the work via social media and it was stumbled upon during my wish to understand myself and help me build up my capacity to cope with the slings and arrows of life. The last two years have been tough and I rerun a self-criticism script most days in relation to being over sensitive, unable to see the wood for the trees and becoming a liability with my emotional responses. I still cry when overwhelmed and many times this is triggered by the absence of kindness and curiosity. Simply stepping back from a situation instead of seeking blame and culpability can really help diffuse tension and unkind actions. I realise that showing emotions is often a no no and that my need to be honest and authentic might be at odds with some people’s definition of professional behaviours. In addition I am noticing when I don’t feel flaky and like crying and that this is in supportive, adult to adult communications and as I notice this I realise that it may not be my stuff but other people’s stuff and that I’m way too sensitive to other people’s stuff and how they should be acting. I have high expectations and I expect people around me to act in a certain way and there are certain ways of working that are not doing me any good.
I am a long way from getting things right but taking responsibility for actions and reactions is a good point to start. I am thinking about not putting myself in vulnerable positions and seeking help and advice before my emotions go into a downward spiral. Admitting vulnerability helps actions that lead to personal responsibility and then leads to feeling less hopeless and helpless.
This has been my learning recently and I believe that admitting certain frailties might actually build resilience and resourcefulness rather than making things worse. I feel much better writing this all down and sharing it with the outside world as an act of openness.
Have been thinking a lot this weekend about how I find purposeful and meaningful work in 2017. My “dream job” didn’t work out and I am now exploring how I can use my skills and experience to support others. Poetry and creativity is important and so is collaborative working – I’m no good at being on my own and need colleagues by my side. I also know that more focus would be good – energy sapping distractions are habits that I’d like to break.
I believe that I can help folk in the workplace and provide creative ways for folk to look after themselves in trying times. After all we seem to be having unprecedented stresses and having bounced back after two lots of adversity I feel I do have some credibility when it comes to healing work wounds and emotional scars caused by repeated exposure to tricky relationships.
Burnout is seen as very negative and I can see why folk would be loath to admit that they might have got to the end of the line. Burnout is horrible – I know because that was way I left the University but it isn’t the end of everything – it can be the beginning. I had lost my way and felt that I had no connection with what the work was all about. I thought that “rescuing” a small third sector organisation would be the way forward but it wasn’t going to be the case. I have learnt a lot from my recent experiences in the workplace – what I expect from colleagues. I now know that it should be up to them to accommodate new people and not for me to second guess what’s expected of me. I have been confused and dismayed by recent interactions but not downhearted.
What I do know is that people are suffering and in despair – parallel processing can mean that those helping distressed folk in health care settings can themselves end up mired in suffering and despair. When we are helping others we could do well to have another pair of eyes and ears on our practice – someone who can listen and attend to our experiences. We can do with someone who can provide a framework for us to contain the experiences and help develop clarity and coherence – not direction or advice BUT a “making sense of” containment – a safe and generative space. I know I can do that for folk and after all these years I am beginning to think that if I don’t start the conversation then no one else is going to suggest it….
I have come to the conclusion that something needs to be done and I am tired of seeing people suffering in their professional practice, barely surviving let alone thriving. Fear and anxiety stalking them on a daily basis and protective mechanisms are causing chronic defensive responses and leading to burn out. I don’t think I’m being too dramatic when I say that there are many people are running on empty and they don’t even realise it – look out for people who moan and discount everyone around them. These people persist in bitching and whining about a multitude of injustices around them. They make judgements about people, criticise and find them all wanting and believe that they are blameless and just poor victims of a malevolent and sinister forces. People around them are succeeding, getting the grants, achieving success and what they need is a stroke of good fortune and a fairy godmother, that way they will be ok too. Magical thinking is all around me – I find folk helpless and hopeless and it is so distressing to witness.
I find no solace in witnessing other people’s suffering – I didn’t enter a helping profession to feel superior and relish in others’ misfortune – that was never my motivation. I want to help people and help them by enabling and inspiring through kindness and curiosity. I had felt that this was my mission after my horrible experience in the workplace 18 months ago. Recent events and experiences have amplified these ideas and have made me wonder whether I really do need to pay attention to this and that adversity and unkindness may be a lesson I need to pay attention to. I have a tendency to just brush it off and move on but maybe I need to concentrate on sense making and also put that sense making into practice. From that excursion I can then offer space and time for harried professionals to explore their current reality and equip them with some resources that might help them thrive not just survive.
Fear has dogged my steps for a long time and I know that sticking my head above the parapet and claiming that I know stuff causes paralysis and a shutting down. Having stepped out into the real world of work and found it painful and unkind maybe I’m not going to find a cause already out there to join, so maybe I need to lead by example. Other folk aren’t going to help me spread my message of kindness and curiosity – it isn’t within their grasp to realise its potential. People are too busy being busy and dwelling in their pain and suffering. Gently and incrementally we must help people see that this doesn’t have to be the way it is and that their pain and suffering can be alleviated. By admitting vulnerability and exploring the effects it has on them they can then find new knowledge that will then equip them with the capacity and capability to allow other people to work alongside them with cooperation and collaboration. Implicit and explicit competition seems to be around a lot and it seems to result in a pernicious erosion of well being, problem solving and perspective. It’s time to call it for what it is and demand attention is given to the suffering – let’s stop it and insist we find a different way of being in the workplace. self compassion coupled with attention and curiosity has been how I’ve found my way in the last 2 years and it’s time I share that experience in practical and public ways.